Human. Unique. Alive

It was a Monday evening in Coogee and I was having a chat to Billie about abortion.

“Most people will say that abortion before 9 weeks is perfectly fine because you don’t really have a human person,” Billie stated.

“Really? I’m fairly sure that human life starts at conception. I just remember hearing that somewhere.” I replied.

“Well some people may say that it does, but it all depends on your definition of what life is. Saying that human life starts at conception is just an arbitrary point that Christians put forward. I’m not saying its invalid just saying it’s just as valid as 9 weeks or 20 weeks.” Billie retorted.

“Yeah but….. hmmm ok…”

Needless to say I was left confused and dissatisfied by that conversation and indeed I found that speaking to other individuals most maintained that a “single cell” or even a “clump of cells” could not constitute a human life. But it begged the question for me of what is a human being and when did that being start.

So naturally I started with Google.

Peter Singer, the ultra liberal, utilitarian philosopher states that:

“The liberal search for a morally crucial dividing line between the newborn baby and the feotus has failed to yield any event or stage of development that can bear the weight of separating those with a right to life from those who lack such a right.” Singer, Peter, Practical Ethics, 2d ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 142.

In fact prior to this he emphasises that it is simply unequivocal that human life starts at conception.

“There is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.” Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 2008), 85-86.

As I searched more I found that more and more academics from both sides of the abortion debate are unanimous on the fact that life starts at conception. For example Bernard Nathanson, embryologist, abortionist and co-founder of NARAL, the most influential abortion advocacy group worldwide, stated categorically:

“There is simply no doubt that even the early embryo is a human being. All its genetic coding and all its features are indisputably human. As to being, there is no doubt that it exists, is alive, is self-directed, and is not the the same being as the mother–and is therefore a unified whole.” Bernard N. Nathanson, M.D., The Hand of God (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 1996), 131

Indeed more than just individual academics, the fact that life starts at conception is one published in the most authoritative embryology textbooks:

“ [The zygote], formed by the union of an oocyte and a sperm, is the beginning of a new human being.” Keith L. Moore’s Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology (7th edition, Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2008, p. 2)

As well as in popular culture science such as National Geographic:

“The two cells gradually and gracefully become one. This is the moment of conception, when an individual’s unique set of DNA is created, a human signature that never existed before and will never be repeated.”  National Geographic “In the Womb,” 2005

I was still left with the question though, what are they talking about when they say that the embryo is a human life? What does it mean to be “a human life”?

For something to be alive, that is to be a life form, it needs to meet four key characteristics (American Heritage Medical Dictionary, 2008).

  1. Metabolism
  2. Growth
  3. Reproduction
  4. Response to Stimuli

Embryos are capable of all of these processes and are therefore defined as being alive. But this could mean that they’re simply alive like a plant is alive and very few people have any moral qualms about chopping up and eating plants.

But it’s not just any life. The embryo is a human life. Its genetics are uniquely human meaning that it will never grow into an adult cat, dog or cow, it only ever has the potential to grow into an adult human being.

But couldn’t it be simply human and alive like a liver cell is human and alive? In actual fact the embryo has its own unique genetic code. It is neither a component of its father’s body or its mother’s body. It is a separate and distinguishable being.

So from the moment of conception you have a unique, human, living individual. You have a human life.

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